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The trouble with e-scooters

It looks like e-scooters are featuring heavily on Christmas lists this year. They are one of Halfords ‘top trending Christmas gifts of 2022’, and Amazon’s ‘most gifted’ e-scooter is a £199.99 number for children and teenagers.

E-scooter fans tell us they will reduce our use of cars, cut carbon emissions and pollution, improve the use of public transport and make our cities and towns less congested. So, why are police forces and others calling on Father Christmas not to deliver e-scooters this year?

The problem is that most privately-owned e-scooters are being used illegally; they can only be used on private land, with the landowner’s permission. The only way to legally use an e-scooter is to hire it through one of the 30-plus trial schemes that are currently underway, in which case you must have a full or provisional driving licence and must only drive it on the road.

That hasn’t stopped the rider of a privately-owned e-scooter attempting to sue Barnet Council in London after she hit a pothole and damaged her knee. Even though she was driving illegally, she is claiming £30,000 damages.

Tom McNeil, West Midlands assistant police and crime commissioner, told The Guardian newspaper “It’s irresponsible that retailers are selling these e-scooters, which they know cannot be used on public roads. They must know the vast majority of customers don’t have huge amounts of private land that they’re riding e-scooters on.

“Many people are confused about the rules. I’ve been out with police officers and seen people stopped on privately owned e-scooters and they appeared to have no idea they weren’t allowed to be riding them.”

McNeil thinks their sale should be banned until the Government has sorted out what the regulations governing them will be. A host of other police forces, crime commissioners and charities such as the National Federation of the Blind and various local authorities have called for the same thing.

The Department of Transport has said that the Government’s new Transport Bill will set standards for e-scooters sold in the UK concerning issues such as top speed, power and lights. However, the reading of the bill, which was expected this Autumn, has now been pushed back and won’t be heard until after May 2023.

Trials of e-scooters in cities, where they can be rented from firms such as Voi and TIER, began in 2020 and were expected to last around 12 months. The idea was that the trials would help inform the Government’s decision on legislation. Trial periods were extended and now some will be further extended to 2024, while a few schemes have been stopped early.

There are several countries where the use of private e-scooters is legal. The Electric Scooter Guide website identifies Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Singapore and the US as the top countries for private e-scooter ownership.

None of these countries allow e-scooters to be driven on footpaths, instead allowing them to be used on roads and cycle paths. The age at which people can drive scooters varies hugely between countries: in Singapore and Belgium it’s 16, 14 in Germany, 12 in Austria and just 8 years old in France. In the US, it varies between 12 and 17, depending on the state.

The problem with the current unregulated approach to private scooter use is that people are unaware of the law and, as a result, drive them wherever they want to. This has led to some accidents, with injuries to both e-scooter riders and to pedestrians, some of them fatal. And of course, there are no win-no fee solicitors specialising in e-scooter related cases.

For local authorities, there is concern over e-scooter riders making claims against them for injuries due to uneven road surfaces. The outcome of the Barnet case has not yet been reported, but commentators have pointed out that if the court does find in the rider’s favour, there will be far-reaching consequences for other councils.

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